Review and road test of the Toyota GR86
Toyota's classic back-to-basics sports car is back. Jonathan Crouch reports on the GR86.
Ten Second Review of the Toyota GR86
If you thought involving affordable sports cars belonged back in history, then you'll find Toyota's GR86 a welcome breath of fresh air. This latest car isn't much faster than its much loved GT86 predecessor but the suspension's stiffer, the steering's sharper and it's been made a little smarter, both inside and out. Otherwise, things are as before. Developed and desired by enthusiasts, the GR86 remains a benchmark in the compact coupe sector, a master class in driving dynamics.
For too long, enthusiasts have believed what the car makers have told them. That they needed more power, more grip, more fancy intervening electronics. That argument looks good on paper, but can often be curiously unsatisfying out on the road. If that's been your experience in buying an affordable and enthusiast-orientated but practical sports car, then you might agree that it's time to go back to basics. That's is exactly what Toyota did when back in 2012 it launched what was known in Japan as the 'Hachiroku' model, which translates as 'Eight, Six' in Japanese. We knew it as the GT86.
Four factors governed its development: light weight, modest normally aspirated power, rear wheel drive and narrow tyres. Lap times, the engineers decided, were unimportant. What mattered here was driving enjoyment. You might have forgotten just how much of a heritage affordable Toyota sportscars have in providing that, from the tiny S800 of 1962 to the GT2000 late that decade, the Celica of the '70's and the mid-engined MR2 of the '80's and 90's.
The GT86 has proved to be a worthy successor to those cars, but there's always room for improvement and now it's time for the next chapter in this model line, the GR86. The change of letter designates the development involvement of Toyota's motorsport division Gazoo Racing, the engineers who bought you the GR Supra and the GR Yaris. As with the old GT86, this GR model is been produced as part of a joint venture with Subaru - it's even built at Subaru's Ota plant. This time round, there won't be a Subaru version of this design sold in the UK, which should help Toyota sales of this design, which weren't stellar last time round.
They knew what sports cars were back in the Fifties. Not a lot of power. Not a lot of grip. And an awful lot of fun. If you see that as the classic automotive era, then it may be that you're not completely up to date with the quality of performance machines you'll find in the time you live in. Some of them are supercars - but not all. Take Toyota's GT86, which sold between 2012 and 2020. Here's its like-minded successor, the GR86.
The headline change is the increase in size of an engine that's still a Subaru-developed Boxer four-cylinder powerplant, but now a larger one, capacity raised from 2.0 to 2.4-litres. There's 20% more pulling power and you can access it earlier in the rev range. Output rises by 34bhp to 230bhp and the engine note (enhanced by the cabin speakers) is now much more involving. Despite the bigger powerplant, there's hardly any change in weight, ride height is 10mm lower and the suspension's stiffer. Plus there's a shorter throw for the 6-speed manual gearbox. It's all good.
What else? Well there's still a paddleshift auto gearbox option. And on top variants, you get grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tyres. A Torsen limited-slip differential gives reassuring traction when cornering. And the new electric power steering system has a 13.5:1 ratio and requires just 2.5 turns of GR86's three-spoke steering wheel to move from lock to lock, giving easy manoeuvrability. 62mph from rest takes 6.3s for the manual (it's 6.9s for the automatic) - think around a second quicker than the previous GT86. Top speed is 140mph for the manual and 134mph for the automatic.
Design and Build
If you happen to be familiar with this model's predecessor, then you'll recognise the GR86 at once because the design formula is much the same. At the wheel, you sit 5mm lower than in the old car, but your view forward is still fine across the low rising bonnet. This covers cylinders with a bore expanded from the perfectly square 86mm dimensions of the previous model - that figure is now 94mm.
Inside, Toyota says that it's lowered the hip point and roof line a little on seats that have decent lateral support. The dash now looks less dated but there are still plenty of hard plastics around the fascia. A touchscreen is provided in the centre stack, though it's not especially large. Despite a 5mm wheelbase increase, the rear seats remain suitable only for kids or bags, though they do still drop down to increase the capacity of the decently-sized 226-litre boot. Those rear chairs can be folded down using release catches in the cabin, or a release strap in the boot. When folded, there is load space big enough to take four wheels - ideal for those driving their GR86 to and from track days.
Market and Model
GR86 Chief Engineer Yasunori Suezawa sums up Toyota's purpose here: "The GR86's mission is to open up the world of GR, enabling it to be enjoyed by more and more people." Well it'll only do that if it's affordable. Is it? You decide. The cost is £30,000 - or just over £32,000 if you want the automatic version. And inevitably, you'll pay extra for the metallic or pearlescent shade you'll probably want. Toyota says that production of Europe will be limited to just two years, making this quite an exclusive proposition for customers.
Full-LED headlights are standard across the range. As are front sports seats that feature supportive pads which are independent of each other, ensuring a slim design and good body-holding. There's a much better multimedia system than before with an 8-inch screen and 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone integration. USB ports and AUX socket are also provided for device connection and recharging. Equipped with a new Data Communications Module, the GR86 provides an eCall function in the event of an accident or emergency.
Cost of Ownership
You might be tempted by this car and then wonder if the GR86 is going to cost an arm and a leg in depreciation compared to something similar with a premium badge, say a BMW 2 Series Coupe. A car with the Bavarian roundel on its bonnet has to be a safer home for your money, right? Wrong, as it happens. The GT86 achieved impressive 58 per cent residual values after the typical three year ownership period and we expect the GR86 to better that, thanks to its limited production run.
The GR86 is reasonably economical, helped by a lean 1,670kg kerb weight that's around 100kg lighter than you'd expect a 2.0-litre coupe in this class to be. Every person we know who's run the old GT86 reported averages of over 30mpg. And we know a few lead foots, we can assure you of that. The official combined figure for both transmissions is 32.1mpg. Emissions aren't quite so clever (200g/km for the manual and 199g/km for the auto), but taxation should still be affordable. Plus, as with all Toyotas, the GR86 is covered by a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which owners can extend at no cost through the 'Toyota Relax' programme simply by having their vehicle serviced at an authorised Toyota centre, gaining an extra year and 10,000 miles of cover up to a limit of the vehicle reaching 10 years and/or 100,000 miles.
So, the world's most compact four-seat sports car continues to be a tempting proposition for driving enthusiasts. Of course, as before, it could be faster, grippier, quieter and of better quality inside. But to be honest, we wouldn't really want it to be. All of those things would dilute the very qualities that make this GR86 what it is. Sports cars always used to be this way, light, low powered and modestly rubbered. We had fun in them then and we can have fun in this one now. The chassis is excellent, the controls are brilliant, the driving position nigh-on perfect and the new 2.4-litre engine is revvy, fun and sounds a bit more exciting.
In summary, the GR86, like its predecessor, is a sports car to savour; one of those rare machines that involves you so much that you don't need to be travelling at three figure speeds to have fantastic fun. Factor in the affordable running costs and high residuals and it becomes a very tempting proposition indeed. In years to come, we think, this model line will be fondly remembered. Enjoy it while you can.
Toyota GR86 review by Jonathan Crouch